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European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology

For a Special Issue on

Precarious Employment and Work: Understanding the underlying psychological and social processes

Manuscript deadline
31 May 2024

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Lisa Seubert, University of Innsbruck
[email protected]

Ishbel McWha-Hermann, University of Edinburgh
[email protected]

Christian Seubert, University of Innsbruck
[email protected]

Rosalind Searle, University of Glasgow
[email protected]

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Precarious Employment and Work: Understanding the underlying psychological and social processes

Precarious employment and work refer to unstable, short-term, and often part-time work that does not consistently offer social and legal protections (Allan et al., 2021). Alarmingly, a recent study on precarious employment and work in Europe found that two out of three salaried workers are precariously employed (Matilla-Santander et al., 2019). Previous research across various disciplines has proposed multidimensional conceptualizations of both objective characteristics and associated subjective experiences (Kreshpaj et al., 2020; Seubert C. & Seubert L., 2023). More recent, emerging research has also begun to consider precarious employment and work in parallel with decent work, and there is considerable potential in this line of work (e.g., Blustein, et al, 2022; Seubert C. et al., 2021). The field of psychology has dealt extensively with job insecurity and their negative consequences for health and well-being (De Witte et al., 2016). However, a psychological research tradition investigating precarious employment and work as a multidimensional concept is lacking (Puig-Barrachina et al., 2014; Rönnblad et al., 2019).

This special issue provides an opportunity to showcase psychological research on precarious employment and work to shift the dial within our discipline to understand and influence precarious working conditions. We call for papers that explore precarious employment and work in a variety of different ways, including conceptualisation, measurement, and integration with other psychological concepts. Psychological research can help uncover the implications of precariousness for workers and their organisations. There is also potential for greater understanding and conceptual clarity related to the dimensions of precarious employment and work, and how it is conceptualised. Drawing together new research on precarious employment and work in this Special Issue (SI) will enable discovery and identification of underlying processes and their embeddedness in specific social, economic, political, and ideological contexts. This in turn may shed light on how people experience their job subjectively and also demonstrate spillover consequences beyond the individual to families, organisations, societies, economies.

Relevance of topic for work and organizational psychology (WOP)

While there is growing evidence that precarious employment and work is associated with negative consequences for health and well-being (e.g., Rönnblad et al., 2019), little is known about the role of underlying psychological and social processes experienced by affected people. For example, Klug et al. (2020) found evidence that financial worries are more strongly associated with impaired mental health than factual low income. Moreover, material conditions under which one grows up impact personal and social identities in the long term (Manstead, 2018) hence, precarious employment and work may not only impact affected people but also their children’s identity.

According to the “identity process model of precarious work” proposed by Selenko (2023), precarious employment and work restricts opportunity for enactment, sense making and social validation which threatens the development of a work identity and existing self-understandings. Consequently, the lack of a stable, positive work identity can undermine well-being, future action, and may affect beliefs and expectations, career goal setting as well as work performance, attitudes towards others etc. It is unknown if or to what extent precarious employment and work satisfies manifest (level of income) and latent (social status, belonging, purpose, structure, activity) benefits of work, given such working situations are associated with low levels of income, reduced social status, belonging, purpose, structure, and activity (Jahoda, 1981; Seubert L. et al., 2023). However, there are important insights to be uncovered about how workers experience precarious employment and work and what they value about it, despite enduring hardship. For example, precariously employed migrant care workers who reported aspects of precariousness and exploitation also stated experiencing meaning, to be proud of making an important contribution to society and to be satisfied with their jobs (Hopfgartner et al., 2022). Furthermore, specific sectors and jobs that are very important for society but lack recognition are particularly prone to precariousness and exploitation (e.g., construction, cleaning, care, agriculture, food, hospitality, sex work; Lewis et al., 2015). To date we know little about processes of identity formation within precarious employment and work and seemingly paradoxical findings need to be contextualized to understand underlying processes of this complex and dynamic phenomenon.

Considering precarious employment and work in the wider economic and social context, people in precarious employment and work are more vulnerable to external shocks, such as economic or pandemic crises, which makes it difficult for them to escape poverty (Searle & McWha-Hermann, 2021). Furthermore, precarious employment and work not only affects individual workers, but negative consequences occur also at organizational (e.g., injuries and occupational accidents; Koranyi et al., 2018) and societal levels (e.g., increased sickness absence; Oke et al., 2016).

While the global pervasiveness of precarious employment and work is clear, the rising prevalence in countries of the Global North is mirrored in increasing public and scientific discourse (Betti, 2018). This discourse positions precarious employment and work as a relatively new phenomenon that emerged of the depletion of welfare systems in Western economies and the spread of atypical employment relationships. However, such a position has been criticized for ignoring the fact that precarious employment and work has always been the norm in the Global South (Betti, 2018). Moreover, within social welfare systems of Western Europe, secure and stable jobs with full integration into social security systems (standard employment relationships) could only be realized because of the historically gendered nature of unpaid care and housework Suliman & Weber, 2019). There may therefore be much more we can learn from different social (e.g., indigenous communities) and economic contexts (e.g., informal work) about the nature of precarious employment and work.

Objectives and scope

This SI will constitute a vehicle to bring this pressing issue to greater attention within the field of WOP. We anticipate research contributions that explore the phenomenon as a multidimensional concept and thus extend the understanding beyond job insecurity, to consider as a multilevel concept, positioned within individual, social, economic, political, ideological and societal context(s). In doing so, the SI also addresses recent calls to investigate precarious employment and work with a psychological lens (Allan et al., 2021; Seubert C. et al., 2019).

This SI seeks to explore the complex intertwining of precarious forms of employment and work and their subjective experiences in various jobs, organizations, industries, countries, and societies. We aim to apply a global perspective on precarious employment and work, inviting perspectives on and from both Western welfare systems of the Global North (e.g., Europe) and developing and emerging economies of the Global South, shedding light on how precarious employment and work manifests and how subjective experiences vary in different contexts. We therefore encourage submissions from various disciplinary fields able to inform a psychological perspective on precarious employment and work. The SI aims to shed light on the antecedences and contextual factors leading to precarious employment and work at micro (e.g., gender, migration), meso (e.g., specific industries, sectors prone to precariousness and exploitation), and macro (e.g., social security systems and lack of thereof) levels to enhance the means of mitigating and preventing precarious employment and work. Studies may describe any job, occupation, industry, or geographical region.

Example research questions

This SI will develop novel conceptual, empirical, and methodological contributions to advance our understanding of precarious employment and work with a psychological lens through addressing the following questions (being exemplary but far from exhaustive):

  • How can precarious employment and work be conceptualized and operationalized within the context of psychological research?
  • Which objective and subjective dimensions of precarious employment and work are relevant under which conditions?
  • How do workers perceive and experience precarious employment and work, including critical contextual factors?
  • What are the reasons why workers endure the hardship of precarious employment and work? Despite enduring hardship, what do precariously employed workers value at their jobs (e.g., experiencing meaning, positively contributing to society)?
  • What are the manifold (individual, family, organisational, societal) consequences of precarious employment and work?
  • What are the underlying processes (e.g., ideological premises)?
  • What are the micro processes that contribute to or ameliorate taking up precarious employment and work? Which additional mechanisms may play a role?
  • What are the organizational factors and processes that contribute to or mitigate precarious employment and work?
  • What role do Human Resource Management policies and practices and other contextual factors play in amplifying or reducing precarious employment and work?
  • Which policies and practices can help and what are the factors that could stop the “slippery slope” of keeping precariously employed workers entrapped in poverty?
  • What strategies can be employed at micro, meso and/or macro levels to address and reduce precarious employment and work?

Submission Instructions

The SI welcomes high-quality conceptual papers and rigorous empirical (quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods) papers that meet the journal’s rigour and requirements (no student samples, no paper solely relying on cross-sectional self-report data). We particularly invite studies that apply a critical perspective (e.g., underrepresented populations in WOP; non-Western perspectives, examining contexts, underlying processes/ideologies).


(0) Submission deadline for full papers: April 30th, 2024

(1) Reviews + decision round 1: July 31st, 2024

(2) Resubmission deadline: October 31st, 2024

(3) Reviews + decision round 2: February 29th, 2024

(4) Final submission round 3: May 31st, 2025

(5) Publication of the Special Issue by June 2025

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